The City of Birmingham is on the path toward a new stadium to replace the legendary Legion Field.
The stadium would be the home for UAB football, which would pay for a lease to help support the debt service. The UAB lease, corporate commitments, naming rights and other marketing opportunities would provide $4 million a year over 10 years toward the project debt.
From what CR can tell, this is fairly well-received by Blazer fans, something like a culmination of The Return. The football program was destroyed, has returned, and getting a shiny new stadium in the relatively foreseeable future. The photo-renderings show an open-air stadium in downtown Birmingham near the arena and part of the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex.
AL.com has the financing details, including what parties would be responsible for which part of the debt service. This, as usual, has some of that funny math that officials like to include in their statements to the public.
A healthy dose of skepticism is, well, healthy when digesting these things. One good view for all of these types of deals is Field of Schemes, a site by the authors of the book of the same name. They have been ‘casting a critical eye on the roughly $2 billion a year in public subsidies that go toward building new pro sports facilities.’
Let’s say UAB sells out six home games a year — kind of ambitious since this is a football program that actually considered shutting down a few years back out of lack of interest, but let’s go with it. That’d be 330,000 fans a year. Add in 100,000 soccer fans a year, which would be pretty good for a USL team. Birmingham has a 6% local sales tax, so to generate $9.9 million in tax revenue, those 430,000 fans would have to spend $165 million — or $384 apiece, per game. (If we assume, I dunno, ten sold-out concerts and international soccer games a year, which is getting into the realm of wish fulfillment, then you might get it down to $150 in spending per fan, which isn’t much more realistic.) And this would all have to be money that wouldn’t be otherwise spent within Birmingham, so it would entirely depend on local college football and minor-league soccer mostly appealing to fans from outside the city limits.
The improvements to Legacy Arena and the entire complex adds to the discussion a bit. Arena’s are better investments than stadia for many reasons, and the improvement to the area could bring in the types of events that are currently elsewhere — the CUSA Tournament perhaps?
From the perspective of the Blazers football program, this is good as the new field will be a recruiting tool and presumably be one of the nicer stadia in the league. The ideal capacity for a Blazer stadium is something like 30K, and the plans for this show the new field will be something like 50K. There will be an initial novelty bump in attendance the first year and a good season will probably bring in more folks.
It can be argued that Legion Field was turning away Birmingham citizens and the new amenities in the spanking new digs would bring them in. I am sure the city thinks so as well.